Snowden: Stop Putting So Much Faith (and Fear) in Presidents | RT

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By Jon Miltimore

Whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden remains a fugitive at large, but that didn’t stop him from popping up and chiming in on the recent presidential election.

Snowden, who in 2013 blew the lid on the NSA’s massive covert surveillance program, recently appeared on camera via livestream to talk about privacy in an event hosted by StartPage.

Naturally the topic of Donald Trump came up a few times. At one point Snowden was asked “if the outcome [of the election] was better or worse for your case.” (I presume the question was referring to Snowden’s prospect of receiving a presidential pardon.)

Snowden deflected the part of the question that spoke to a possible pardon, saying the election was not about him. But as he continued his response got interesting.

After criticizing the authoritarian tone of the campaign, Snowden said people should stop focusing so much on presidents.

This is the thing I think we begin to forget when we focus too much on a single candidate. The current president of the United States, President Barack Obama, campaigned on a platform of ending mass surveillance in the United States. He said no more warrantless wiring tapping. He said he’d investigate and end criminal activities that had occurred under the prior administration….And we all put a lot of hope in him because of this. Not just people in [the United States]…but people in Europe and elsewhere around the world. It was a moment where we believed that because the right person got into office everything would change. But unfortunately, once he took that office we saw that he actually didn’t fulfill those campaign promises.

Snowden highlighted Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end mass warrantless surveillance as specific broken campaign promises. Snowden said he was bringing up these points simply to drive home a larger message.

“We should be cautious about putting too much faith or fear into elected officials,” said Snowden. “At the end of the day, this is just a president.”

He said if people want to change the world, they should look to themselves instead of putting their hopes or fears in a single person. “This can only be the work of the people,” Snowden said. “If we want to have a better world we can’t hope for an Obama, and we should not fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.”

The crowd erupted in applause following Snowden’s monologue.

Snowden makes a great point, and I found his choice of words interesting.

He says people are putting too much “faith” in politicians. Faith. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that people increasingly treat politics as a religion and political leaders like gods or demigods. Modern man looks to political leaders for hope and sustenance, and often blames them (in their hearts, if not in words) for their pain and misfortune.

Would America not be a better place if people more often looked inward instead of putting their hopes and fears in some distant leader? Would we not be better people if we did so?

Source: RT

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The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

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By Charles Eisenstein

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See herehereherehere) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person.

Even if the person you face IS a misogynist or bigot, ask, “Is this who they are, really?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there. You may still not know how to engage them, but at least you will not be on the warpath automatically. We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. So let’s stop making our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.

We’ve got to stop acting out hate. I see no less of it in the liberal media than I do in the right-wing. It is just better disguised, hiding beneath pseudo-psychological epithets and dehumanizing ideological labels. Exercising it, we create more of it. What is beneath the hate? My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”

I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered, and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. They feel it in mirror image, adding damage to their souls atop the damage that compels them to violence. Thus it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Thus it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. We are all in this together.

Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate. Next time you post on line, check your words to see if they smuggle in some form of hate: dehumanization, snark, belittling, derision.., some invitation to us versus them. Notice how it feels kind of good to do that, like getting a fix. And notice what hurts underneath, and how it doesn’t feel good, not really. Maybe it is time to stop.

This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers: “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

Source: Charles Eisenstein

John Pilger: Liberals created Trump by pushing corrupt Clinton, but now act surprised | RT

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By Julian Assange
Award-winning journalist John Pilger says that Donald Trump’s election victory “could be seen from miles away,” and has blamed a union of political, financial and media figures for standing behind a “grotesque campaign” to elect the “corrupt” Hillary Clinton.

“The only people who are surprised are those who allowed it to happen – and I am speaking about the liberal class in the US,”Pilger told RT’s Afshin Rattansi during a lengthy interview on RT UK’s Going Underground.

“They told us that only the status quo – a corrupt, war-mongering candidates will be acceptable to the majority. We will have their hyperventilating, and their frustration, and their frenzied reaction for a long time. But, they’ve created Trump…”

He added that the shock surprise is similar to that which occurred after Brexit – “how dare these people vent their frustrations at the ballot box?”

The journalist believes that the arrogance was on display as far back as when Clinton was given a straight run to the nomination during her primaries, with her only real challenger, the outsider Bernie Sanders, treated with contempt.

“They corrupted a voting system, within the Democratic Party that ensured that another populist, Bernie Sanders – though I don’t think he would have beaten Trump – could not win, and instead the embodiment of the status quo, who has declared the whole world a battlefield was made out to be the ‘candidate of sanity’ or ‘the candidate for women.’”

Pilger criticized Clinton’s entourage, noting that she was backed not only by Wall Street heavyweights, but nearly all of the major arms manufacturers in the US, creating an unappealing image for a woman those at home and abroad already saw as a “warmonger.”

“Most of the world regards that kind of behavior from the most powerful country in the world as abhorrent, and she has been the personification of that,” said Pilger.

Pilger also said that US media, in which all but one national newspaper backed Clinton, acted as “anti-journalists,” looking to catch out and “demonize” Trump, without even attempting to weigh up his message.

“One of the most revealing things about the campaign has been the exposure of journalism as the extension of the same established power. They are not independent, they are echo chambers… And the most respected are the worst. The New York Times has become a sort of Cold War propaganda sheet,”said Pilger, who also criticized the tactic of blaming Russia and Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, for exposing genuine email communications related to Clinton.

Despite praising the President Elect for “articulating the frustrations of ordinary Americans very well,”Pilger remains cautious about the next four years.

“Whether Trump will be any better is unclear. He says he is anti-establishment, but he will come with his own establishment. I don’t believe for a moment that he is against the establishment of the US in a wider sense – indeed he is a product of it,” said Pilger. “The truth is, there was no one to vote for.”

Source: RT

Why Last Night Was Not Just Huge For Pot, But The Entire Criminal Justice System | Think Progress

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Last night wasn’t a good night for Democrats. But when asked instead to vote on issues that many Democrats care about, voters backed progressive ballot initiatives around the country. This is particularly true in the area of criminal justice, which has become a rare point of bipartisanship among some Democrats and Republicans. In a spate of ballot initiatives around the country, voters sent a signal that they are ready to reform a system that has sent more people in the United States to jail than in any other country in the world.

Each of these initiatives embraces a notion known as “Smart on Crime.” The phrase is a replacement for the old adage of “tough-on-crime” and means that, rather than threatening heavy punishments for a long list of so-called crimes, jurisdictions focus instead on doing what actually, empirically, makes communities safer. In reducing or eliminating penalties for some actions that would be better addressed through public health or rehabilitative policies, jurisdictions can focus more resources on serious, violent crimes. Or, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder put it last year, “Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason.”

Marijuana

Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. put pot legalization on the ballot, and all three passed it. As of last night, there are now more than double the number of jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, even as it remains federally prohibited. In Washington, D.C., where African Americans make up almost half the population, the margin of victory was staggering, with voters supporting the measure by a ratio of 7 to 3.

Alaska and Oregon were not as certain to pass the initiatives. But both passed by margins of several points ballot initiatives that don’t just legalize possession and growth of pot, but also its sale and taxation. (Washington, D.C. is not permitted to tax and regulate by ballot initiative, and lawmakers plan to follow up with a bill to achieve this).

In each of these jurisdictions, different messages dominated. In libertarian-heavy Alaska, where pot policy was already liberalized, the focus of the campaign was that marijuana is no less safe than alcohol, and those who use it shouldn’t be penalized differently. In Washington, D.C., by contrast, a significant population of very liberal gentrifiers mixed with longtime African American residents who are sick and tired of criminal justice policies that arrest African Americans for pot at eight times the rate of whites.

Majorities also voted in favor of medical marijuana. In Guam, a measure to pass medical marijuana passed early in the day. And in Florida, a medical marijuana ballot initiative that became heavily politicized with a well-funded opposition movement failed, but only because it required a 60 percent vote to amend the Constitution. Despite the initiative’s failure, a solid majority — 58 percent — voted in favor of the measure. The initiative’s loss is still a bit of a surprise, because polls have shown that support among Florida residents for the idea of medical marijuana is as high as 90 percent. In fact, lawmakers passed a much narrower medical marijuana provision last year that, remarkably, had the support of almost every state lawmaker. If their goal in passing it was to pick off support for the more expansive measure on the ballot, they succeeded.

Rounding off the evening, two cities in New Mexico — Santa Fe and Bernalillo — voted to decriminalize pot.

The statewide initiatives won’t go into effect today. There will be months of policy-making, political wrangling, and pushback from Congress. But majorities in every jurisdiction where the question was posed voted to reduce the penalties for marijuana.

Proportional Penalties

In California, voters passed an initiative that embraces that Smart on Crime notion in a more comprehensive way. Proposition 47 reduces the penalties for low-level nonviolent offenses including many drug and property crimes, on the notion that locking people up who haven’t done anything dangerous doesn’t do anybody any good. The initiative changes a number of offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, meaning the sentence for conviction is much lower, and that the impact on an individual’s criminal record won’t be as significant. Many job and voting restrictions, for example, only apply to felonies. Offenses that will be affected by the measure include drug possession offenses, as well as shoplifting, credit card fraud, and forgery.

The initiative also means that some 10,000 individuals already behind bars will be eligible for re-sentencing. This is particularly relevant for California, which has been struggling to reduce its prison population since the U.S. Supreme Court declared its prisons so overcrowded that they violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

With a passage rate of 58 percent, the initiative may serve as a model for other states. The state already decriminalized marijuana possession several years ago, and has seen arrests go down without significant adverse consequences.

Bail Reform

In New Jersey, Democrats and Republicans have joined forces over the past year to pass a package of measures that ensure those behind bars are those who pose a greater danger to society, not the ones who can’t afford to pay bail. Lawmakers took up the issue after a study found that some 40 percent of those who are jailed after they are arrested but before their trial or conviction are there simply because they were poor.

The idea behind bail is that individuals who are charged with a crime put up a bond of significant value to increase the likelihood that they will return for future court dates. But the system creates a class divide. Many are charged with bail under $2,500 — a sum that many wealthier individuals can pay, but is completely out of reach for low-income defendants. Those who end up stuck behind bars pending their trial do not have the same capacity to defend their case. They are more likely to eventually plead guilty, and many have called pretrial detention “ransom” intended to extract such guilty pleas.

Two companion bills were passed by the New Jersey legislature to make the bail system less about how much money defendants have, and more about whether they pose a danger to the public. One bill passed by the legislature took income out of the equation for less dangerous offenders by conducting risk assessments of defendants, and allow those not deemed dangerous to participate in a monitoring program until their trail, rather than to sit in jail. A second bill put Tuesday’s ballot initiative before the voters. That ballot initiative asked voters to give judges power to hold the most dangerous offenders behind bars before their trial — even if they could afford bail. By passing this measure Tuesday, the bail reform package is now fully in effect.

Gun Violence

The idea of “Smart on Crime” initiatives is to eliminate the counterproductive criminal policies and re-allocate resources toward those policies that actually reduce violent crime. To that end, some might also consider it a win that in Washington State (where pot is already legal), voters both approved a measure to close a loophole in firearms background checks, and rejected a competing ballot initiative that would have narrowed the state’s gun laws. The measure means that gun sellers and buyers can’t get around limitations on who can own a guy by selling them in private online sales or at gun shows.

Source:  Think Progress

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change | Boston Globe

By Jordan Michael Smith

DoubleGovernment The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

RELATED: Coverage of the 2014 midterm elections

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.

How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.

IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?

GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmental policy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?

GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.

The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

RELATED: Answers sought on CIA role in ‘78 JFK probe

IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?

GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.

IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives?

GLENNON: There is an element of what you described. There is not only one explanation or one cause for the amazing continuity of American national security policy. But obviously there is something else going on when policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.

IDEAS: This isn’t how we’re taught to think of the American political system.

GLENNON: I think the American people are deluded, as Bagehot explained about the British population, that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy, as Bagehot predicted there would be. But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.

IDEAS: Do we have any hope of fixing the problem?

GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.

Source: Boston Globe

OpenSecrets.org’s Resources on Politically Active Tax-Exempt Groups

The first congressional hearing triggered by the news that the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately targeted tea party groups for additional scrutiny begins Friday, and it’s clear the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

The Center for Responsive Politics has been intensively researching and writing about politically active nonprofits — also known as 501(c)(4) organizations, or, more colloquially, “dark money” groups — for more than a year. Since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision freed them to participate more directly in electoral politics, they have been used to pour money into the system at an unprecedented rate.

There has been an explosion of spending by nonprofit groups over the last three election cycles, from less than $17 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in 2012.
nonprofit spending growth by type.JPG
These groups, unlike the more commonly known super PACs, are not required to divulge the names of their donors, and much of their spending is unreported, too. Their annual tax filings with the IRS list how much money they have, who their officers are and the recipients of any grants they may have made.

But when they spend their money directly in support of or opposition to a candidate, they must report to the Federal Election Commission. FEC data collected and analyzed by OpenSecrets.org shows that in the 2012 election alone, politically active nonprofits reported spending more than $308 million. Many millions more were likely spent on “issue ads” that escaped reported rules.

If you follow that link, you’ll notice none of the organizations at the top of our list are tea party groups. In fact, they have remained relatively small players in the game.
What we do know is that many of these groups on the list are conservative in nature — though they come in many flavors of conservative. There are several important liberal groups active in this area, as well, but right-leaning groups dominate. About 85 percent of the money that was spent by nonprofits in the 2012 cycle, as reported to the FEC, was paid out by conservative groups.
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We’ve also applied old-fashioned reporting in our effort to bring these groups to the public’s attention, in particular with our Shadow Money Trail series. Despite the current concern about IRS employees applying too much scrutiny to certain groups because of their political slant, we’ve actually found many instances where political operatives from across the spectrum seem to be taking advantage of the fact that the IRS generally applies very little scrutiny to these entities.

By painstakingly going through public tax returns filed by tax-exempt groups, we have been able to trace how some of the money has flowed between them. We have posted that information (here’s an example) when we have it.

Some of the topics we’ve covered in this series:
  • How conservative group American Committment seemed to make $10 million disappear by churning money between its various related groups.
  • How Obama’s dark money allies make big payments to political consultants.
  • The phenomenon of dark money mailboxes — social welfare organizations that act as way stations for dark money and have few or no activities of their own.
  • How one prominent liberal group churns money through a confusing web of similarly named 501(c)(4)s and 527 groups.

There are a host of other stories on our Shadow Money Trail page, including “Shadow Money Magic,” our five-part report on how some of these groups game the IRS.

Source: OpenSecrets.org

Ron Paul’s Farewell Address to Congress

Ron Paul: This may well be the last time I speak on the House Floor.  At the end of the year I’ll leave Congress after 23 years in office over a 36 year period.  My goals in 1976 were the same as they are today:  promote peace and prosperity by a strict adherence to the principles of individual liberty.

It was my opinion, that the course the U.S. embarked on in the latter part of the 20th Century would bring us a major financial crisis and engulf us in a foreign policy that would overextend us and undermine our national security.

To achieve the goals I sought, government would have had to shrink in size and scope, reduce spending, change the monetary system, and reject the unsustainable costs of policing the world and expanding the American Empire.

The problems seemed to be overwhelming and impossible to solve, yet from my view point, just following the constraints placed on the federal government by the Constitution would have been a good place to start.

How Much Did I Accomplish?

In many ways, according to conventional wisdom, my off-and-on career in Congress, from 1976 to 2012, accomplished very little.  No named legislation, no named federal buildings or highways—thank goodness.  In spite of my efforts, the government has grown exponentially, taxes remain excessive, and the prolific increase of incomprehensible regulations continues.  Wars are constant and pursued without Congressional declaration, deficits rise to the sky, poverty is rampant and dependency on the federal government is now worse than any time in our history.

All this with minimal concerns for the deficits and unfunded liabilities that common sense tells us cannot go on much longer.  A grand, but never mentioned, bipartisan agreement allows for the well-kept secret that keeps the spending going.  One side doesn’t give up one penny on military spending, the other side doesn’t give up one penny on welfare spending, while both sides support the bailouts and subsidies for the banking and  corporate elite.  And the spending continues as the economy weakens and the downward spiral continues.   As the government continues fiddling around, our liberties and our wealth burn in the flames of a foreign policy that makes us less safe.

The major stumbling block to real change in Washington is the total resistance to admitting that the country is broke. This has made compromising, just to agree to increase spending, inevitable since neither side has any intention of cutting spending.

The country and the Congress will remain divisive since there’s no “loot left to divvy up.”

Without this recognition the spenders in Washington will continue the march toward a fiscal cliff much bigger than the one anticipated this coming January.

I have thought a lot about why those of us who believe in liberty, as a solution, have done so poorly in convincing others of its benefits.  If liberty is what we claim it is- the principle that protects all personal, social and economic decisions necessary for maximum prosperity and the best chance for peace- it should be an easy sell.  Yet, history has shown that the masses have been quite receptive to the promises of authoritarians which are rarely if ever fulfilled. Read more…

Source: Ron Paul